VU Special Collections - How to access and use: Zelman Cowen

The Sir Zelman Cowen Collection was donated in March 2012 by Lady Anna Cowen and contains the books and journals from Sir Zelman Cowen’s Commonwealth Office Library. Victoria University has a strong connection with Sir Zelman Cowen, who was a former Australian Governor-General and distinguished legal academic.

The Sir Zelman Cowen Collection contains around 1500 books and journals and is an essential snapshot of the interests of this important figure in Australian political and legal life. The collection strengths include Australian constitutional law, federal politics and the law, Australian architecture and Australian literature. The time period spans the duration of the public career of Sir Zelman Cowen.


Sir Zelman Cowen, AK GCMG GCVO QC, was one of Australia's most distinguished jurists. He was born in St Kilda in 1919, and studied law at Oxford University.

From 1951, he was Professor of Public Law and Dean of the Faculty of Law at Melbourne University. Zelman Cowen was Vice-Chancellor of the University of New England from 1967 to 1970, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Queensland from 1970 to 1977. He was knighted in 1976, and appointed as the 19th Governor-General of Australia from December 1977 to July 1982.

Sir Zelman became Provost of Oriel College Oxford in 1982 and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Oxford in 1988. He also served as Chairman of the UK Press Council between 1983 and 1988.

In 1994 Sir Zelman accepted the positions at Victoria University of Distinguished Visiting Professor and Chair of the Victoria University Foundation. As Chair of the Foundation, he led the University's efforts in gaining philanthropic support for students in their studies, including contributions for prizes and scholarships. On retiring as Chair of the Foundation he agreed to continue his involvement by accepting an honorary appointment position as Inaugural Patron and remained a staunch friend of the University.

Sir Zelman passed away on 8 December 2011. Sir Zelman Cowen's portrait is on display at the  National Portrait Gallery, Canberra.


Further resources

Sir Zelman Cowen on Trove

Sir Zelman Cowen biography, via the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre

Sir Zelman Cowen, Academic, Statesman, Queen's Counsel (1919-2011), via the Archive of Australian Judaica (University of Sydney)

Sir Zelman Cowen's obituary (Obituaries Australia)

Sir Zelman Cowen Centre (Victoria University)

Centenary of Sir Zelman Cowen